Friday, 28 November 2014

Just who is this IADAA?

The International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) issued  a rather superficial and ill-prepared text "proving" that the the surfacing of undocumented artefacts from Mesopotamia and Syria on the German antiquities market is not an issue anyone should be concerned about. Just who is this group?

They are an association of 32 dealers, formed in 1993. Their locations are concentrated in western Europe, with a few outliers in New York and one in Israel. Their "objectives" are set out on their website and may be summarised:
  1. To encourage the study and interest throughout the world of ancient art [...]
  2. To encourage contacts between museums, archaeologists, collectors and the trade and to foster its relations with governmental and non-governmental international organisations.
  3. To actively encourage the protection and preservation of ancient sites.[...] We believe that a more liberal and rational approach to regulations on the import and export of works of art will help to protect world cultural heritage.
  4. To organise mutual assistance between dealers in works of ancient art and official Institutions, by communicating to members of IADAA all information needed to apply strictly to the code of ethics and practice.
  5. To foster friendly relations between the members of the Association.
 The scope of the "ancient art" (ie dugup archaeological material and loose bits of monuments) is narrowed in objective 1 to "issues exclusively concerning works of ancient art from the Mediterranean civilisations and other civilisations directly in contact with them". That's not really applicable to the Akkadian and Sumerian artefacts of their latest press release as there was no 'civilization' as such to be in contact with in the Mediterranean region, but that's a by the by.

The nature of their vision of the second objective is illustrated by the curious page on their website of quotes from antiquarian-minded scholars, classicists and museum folk (Cuno, de Montebello, Boardmann et al.) all of whom approve collecting and the antiquities trade (see here). There is nothing alongside it showing that they perceive the reasons behind the concerns of the other group of scholars (which even includes some classicists and museum professionals) who have concerns about the existing situation. It is a very - and deliberately - one-sided presentation hardly serving the aims of the second objective. The second objective does not seem to be served either by the latest press activity of the IADAA, involving at least one ad hominem attack on archaeologist Muller-Karpe and in effect accusing the archaeologists (like myself) raising concerns about undocumented artefacts of being liars. In the light of its current activity, the "relations" it seems to be headed for with the German authorities if they are intent on cleaning up the trade seems likely to be those of opposition and confrontation.

We've all seen the IADAA idea of "actively encouraging the protection and preservation of ancient sites", (see here too). Like all dugup antiquity collectors, it is seen as something "others must do" and the role of dealers is simply to watch and tell others what to do. There is no notion embodied in the wording here that anything dealers and collectors can do can have an effect on the commercial exploitation of sites (which is not likely to help them foster the relations of objective three).

Likewise the "more liberal [...] approach" to regulations on the import and export of works of art will do absolutely nothing to help to protect the Syrian archaeological heritage from wholesale hoiking. All it means is that dealers who have earlier "fostered those relations" with the government officials turning a blind eye to the problem will be able to get their hands on them even more easily ("rational" innit?)

The meaning of objective four is a bit unclear, but the the code of ethics and practice as published is  seriously lacking in any substance. If this is not due to atrociously bad phrasing, it serves as a façade only (see below).

Objective five is much clearer and rational  - party time! I don't know how much the subs are for this club, but it should be enough for a keg or two of ale and pizza once a year. Quite what other use the organization has, to go by the timbre of recent activity on the German front, it is difficult to see. They have five German members, none of them were mentioned in the DW reports to which the IADAA took such exception (but this case is not irrelevant to this discussion and the vindictive attacks on Muller-Karpe). In other words, they are defending the interests of other German dealers, ones not subject to their own regulations. Will they now be inviting them to their next Christmas beer and pizza knees-up in a Swiss beerkeller as a result?

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